I’ve just returned from Chicago where I was making Improv Art at the 13th Annual Chicago Improv Festival (CIF), the largest improv festival in the world. The festival was spread out over multiple venues in the city; Second City, IO, Annoyance Theatre, The Playground, Comedy Sportz... and others. There were hundreds of acts from all over the world, though unfortunately the festival was less international than originally anticipated because the European groups were unable to fly in because the Icelandic volcanic residue. The biggest highlight for me was CIF’s Award’s Night where they gave a best Ensemble of the Year award to The Improvised Shakespeare Company, Best Improviser to Susan Messing and three Lifetime Achievement awards to the late Severn Darden, Dick Schaal and to Harold Ramis. It was at Second City’s intimate ETC stage and the tone of the evening was uplifting and inspiring. It was very exciting and humbling to be around many of the field’s most talented individuals. I may be writing an article for improvisation.ca about the evening’s events and will post a link here if I do.
From an improv art perspective, the festival was a challenge for me because I had to carry my materials with me from venue to venue, usually doing three shows a night and sometimes with only minutes to set-up. (Usually at a festival I have a little studio on stage, where I sit comfortably for the whole time and have a convenient area in the lobby to display and sell my works.) The challenge ended up paying off because I got to meet tons of people that way and got to work in some great venues. After this experience I feel like I could make improv art under any conditions. In an Icelandic volcano? Probably.
I’ve been to a lot of Canadian Improv Festivals (spectating, performing, or art-making) and I’d like to think that I know a good percentage of Canadian improvisers, and that if I don’t, that it’s just a matter of time until our paths’ cross. Going to a Canadian festival is like going to my family reunion, if my entire extended family were comedians. CIF was the first American festival I’ve been to and though it still very much felt like a family reunion, it felt like someone else’s family. This may sound like a silly observation but it was crazy to meet that many improvisers at that level that I’d never met before. Once I got over my shyness I made some great friends from companies all over the states and Mexico, and I’m looking forward to my next American festival which will be that much less daunting.
The photo above is of my make shift studio at Comedy Sportz, it was taken by Jerry Schulman.